Space Exploration as Entertainment

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A heart-pounding homage to the hopes and dreams of planetary scientists.

Two weeks from today, NASA's latest Martian visitor, the Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) will land on the Red Planet and begin broadcasting updates from its surface.

Or so NASA hopes.

The landing will be fraught with danger to the spacecraft as it tries to keep from burning up as it slows itself down in the thin Martian atmosphere. It probably will make a safe landing, but it may not.

Last month, the space agency put out a trailer to dramatize the fear and excitement scientists have about the descent. If you haven't seen it, you can check it out above, in all its heart-pounding glory.

You might watch this and think, "Why is NASA trying to get all Hollywood on us?" I'd just remind you that space exploration broadcasts have always been very successful entertainment. Let us not forget that as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were preparing to set human feet on the surface of the moon for the very first time, they were actually talking about how to set up the cameras to capture the moment. Of course, 500 million people back on Earth were tuned in, so it's probably a good thing they got the f-stop right.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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